Combat Exercise Cobra Gold Reaffirms Ties Between the US and Thailand

“Thailand is the Land of Smiles. Working with Thai officers and learning a little bit of Thai — like sawasdee krub and la korn — are the most important lessons for me,” Capt McArthur of US Marine Corp said.

Capt McArthur has been to Thailand a few times as a tourist, but this was the first time he joined a military exercise and fought side-by-side with the Royal Thai Armed Forces.

He said his short stint on the mock battleflied has deepened his bond with his Thai counterparts. During an icebreaker exercise, he said it felt like he developed a personal relationship with them.

“I feel connected with them. They care about their country and freedom, just as we do in the US,” he said.

“We’d talk about our families and food. What I think is spicy isn’t spicy for them and what they think are spicy isn’t spicy at all for me. For example, papaya salad is too hot for me. My favourite dish is pad thai.”

Col Robert Brodie, the Commanding Officer of the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, said the only thing he personally struggled with, is his rusty Thai language skills.

“But apart from that, our forces are so similar in the way we train and prepare for crises or conflicts that we fit together marvellously,” he said.

Col Brodie said the US force is “thrilled” to return here and conduct the military exercise with its counterpart.

“There are many opportunities we didn’t have last year, including bringing F-35 aircraft. Each year we learn from each other, build our partnerships and gain a better understanding of how our countries can come together primarily to provide peace and stability in the region,” he said.

Michael Heath, the US embassy’s charge d’affaires, said the annual Cobra Gold military drill ensures US and Thai soldiers can join forces in every situation, ranging from humanitarian assistance to disaster relief.

Despite the spread of the Covid-19 disease, US Army Brig Gen Josh Rudd, the Deputy Commanding General for Operations of the 25th Infantry Division, said the US military is taking additional measures, such as frequently topping up their supply of hand sanitisers.

“We provide additional medicines and flew in experts from the US military as part of the exercise. But really, any time we deploy, the health of our soldiers’ is our utmost concern,” he said.

Royal Thai Marine Corps Capt Chayut Chatitsarakul, the Commanding Officer of the 1st Infantry Regiment, added Thailand and the US are stepping up efforts to tackle new threats.

“In the future, we plan to send officers to help those affected by diseases and outbreaks, including the ongoing Covid-19,” he added.

Cobra Gold, the largest international military exercise in Southeast Asia, wrapped up on Friday after 11 days of training sessions attended and observed by close to 10,000 participants from 29 countries.

This year, the 39th Thai-US joint military drill resumed full-scale exercises after a long pause. It consisted of four core training modules — namely the Combined Arms Live Fire Exercise (CALFEX), the AmphibEX amphibious exercise, the humanitarian assistance disaster relief field training exercise (HADR FTX), as well as the Noncombatant Evacuation Operations (Neo) exercise.

The CALFEX was carried out in Sukhothai, the AmphibEX in Chanthaburi, the HADR in Chachoengsao while the NEO at U-Tapao airport in Rayong.

This year, the US Marines brought for the first time to the exercise six of their high-tech Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II, on top of their F-16 fighter jets, P-8 and Orion aircraft.

In addition to these drills, Cyber Field Training Exercise (CFTX) was conducted for the first time. It was also attended by participants from Japan, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and South Korea.

As usual, the highlight of the joint exercise was the jungle survival course, designed to familiarise American soldiers with this region’s terrain and equip them with survival skills, should they happen to get lost or are assigned to work in one. The training has always been popular among American participants.

Gen Pornpipat Benyasri, Thailand’s chief of Defence Forces, said the exercise is in line with the Cobra Gold Exercise 6 Years Plan (2019-2024) and each year has different focus.

This year’s introduction of the CFTX has been welcomed by all participants. However, in the future, the exercise will be more challenging, he said.

“The other exercises will be kept true to the purpose and the spirit of Cobra Gold, that is increasing knowledge and building mutual trust among personnel, with the aim of maintaining peace and stability in the region,” he said.

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